Unlike many of our peer organizations, Hillsides does not provide foster family services. We do not have any foster homes associated with Hillsides. When asked why that was the case, my predecessor, John Hitchcock, indicated he was reluctant to provide a foster home service where the quality of care that would be provided in these foster homes could not be guaranteed. He had reason for his reluctance and certainly the recent exposé in the Los Angeles Times points to why we all should be reluctant to entrust vulnerable children to a system that seems woefully inadequate.
The article points to abuses by some providers and certainly does not reflect the excellent and essential service that many of our peers organizations provide through the foster homes that they sponsor. However, it would seem from the article that there are some significant concerns with how many of the foster home agencies operate and are monitored.
More so than ever the children that are being referred to a foster home require a relatively comprehensive array of services. The foster parent must display extraordinary skill and ability to be successful. In addition to providing a safe living environment, foster parents are asked to facilitate therapeutic care that is specifically oriented to the individual needs of the child. It is very demanding, requires a significant level of training and exclusive commitment. Given the extraordinary need for such homes and the increasing neediness of the children being served, it is essential that the selection of foster parents benefit from a rigorous screening process. In addition, foster parents should be afforded all the resources and support needed to adequately and effectively address the needs of the children in their care.
From the details revealed in the Los Angeles Times article this was not the case with the foster parents that were the subject of the exposé. In addition, the organizations themselves did not have the adequate structure or orientation to effectively deliver quality care to these children.
The following measures would better provide for the needs of the children served in foster homes. First, foster homes should be aligned with a reputable organization that is accredited by a body that has clearly identified standards of operation and practice for foster homes. Second, the same licensing and regulatory requirements that govern institutions providing therapeutic services should apply to all foster homes and be rigorously applied and monitored by Department of Children and Family Services. Third, infractions or violations need to have meaningful consequences and be addressed in a timely fashion. Minimally, these measures should be instituted if not already in place.
Although there will always be a need for good quality foster homes, the ultimate solution is helping families to provide for their own children. Much success has been achieved by identifying within an extended family a relative who can fulfill the parenting responsibilities, if for whatever reason the actual parents are unable to do so. Coupled with a strong community-based support system, most children can be served well, family caregivers can be effective, and the trauma of inadequate care can be avoided. Together with a couple of other peer organizations, Hillsides has piloted this approach and it has been very effective. Children have been kept safe, improvement is evident, and long-term stability is established.
The challenges are great, but that cannot keep us from doing everything in our power to avoid any recurrence of the travesty that some children in the foster care system have suffered.